Victoria Theatres and the “Flu Ban” – The Show Goes On

In January the “flu” was in its second wave, but by no means as serious as what in October had compelled the “Flu Ban”. On Saturday January 25 1919, Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland health authorities held an all-day conference at the Legislative Buildings. The main decision of the conference was that no general ban would be made effective. “While dances, both public and private, will be prohibited, no steps barring public meetings, church services, theatre performances, or school classes will be taken at any rate as yet.” (The Daily Colonist January 26 1919)

Two discussions of the conference related to theatres:

1 – a campaign of education through the columns of the press as well as in moving picture theatres will be inaugurated to impress upon the public the necessity of taking reasonable and needed preventative measures (A suggestion emanating from the conference was that slides in motion picture theatres be utilized for the purpose of disseminating the most effective kind of simple advice.)

2 – power given to municipal authorities to take steps to enforce regulations providing for proper ventilation in places of public assembly, to the end that there shall be provided a means of keeping air fresh and continually renewed. In respect of this last provision, while many theatres are possessed of modern plants for renewing the air, many other places are not so provided, and presumably such places will be closed to the public unless they are made to greet the wishes of the medical authorities.

“No man ever shielded a woman the way Bill shields this one. He goes the limit” “Square Deal Sanderson” at the Dominion Theatre, September 1919.

Romance and breeziness in every foot of film

Review of “Square Deal Sanderson”, 1919

The medical men at the conference agreed that the epidemic was receding. By March 12 1919, The Daily Colonist reported that “The epidemic is practically dead now.” On Thursday March 13 1919, Yvonne and Pierre Malon went to their first “show” after several months. That day, the most likely “kid-friendly” show was at the Dominion – William S. Hart in “Branding Broadway”, about a cowboy in New York. On April 16 1919, The Daily Colonist reported “Influenza has gone.” A month later, on Saturday May 17 1919 it was “too cold for a picnic” so the Malons and friends went to the Pantages, showing “The College Girl Frolics”, with a cast of seven charming girls and two bright clever men. (The Daily Colonist, May 14 1919)

It was now Fall 1919 and a year since the influenza epidemic and “Flu Ban”. The Malon family was as busy as seeing shows. On September 23 1919, Mrs. Malon and her brother George (just returned from four years overseas service) went to the Dominion Theatre. William S. Hart was starring in a Western, “Square Deal Sanderson” – “hard riding, fighting and gun play a plenty. There is romance and breeziness in every foot of film.” On October 4 1919, Yvonne and Pierre Malon went to the Dominion Theatre to see Dustin Farnum and Irene Rich in “A Man in the Open”, another Western in which “exciting events culminate in big dramatic situations.” On November 29 1919, Pierre and Yvonne Malon were at a show, probably “Wolves in the Night” (William Farnum as a mining engineer whose life is imperilled by plotters. “Locale American Northwest, Chile and the Financial District of New York City.”) On December 2 1919, Mrs. Malon went to the Variety Theatre, to see “The Turn in the Road” (“Emotional Punch in Appealing Story… beautiful drama of devotion and sacrifice…carrying the story of love, pathos, and human emotion that makes the production one of absorbing human interest.”) Mrs. Malon’s diaries end the next day, December 3 1919, so we can’t see what happened when influenza came to Victoria once again in Winter 1920…..

Influenza is here

The Daily Colonist, Sunday February 1 1920

In Winter 1920, influenza arrived in Victoria once again. On January 31 1920, Dr. Arthur G. Price, City Medical Health Officer stated that there had been twenty-three cases reported in three days. “He added that the cases were neither lighter nor heavier than last year, and that the disease had not changed since it was in the city last.” (The Daily Colonist, February 1 1920) Within ten days, practically 700 cases had been reported to Dr. Price (Fifty cases were reported on February 11 1920) and there had been ten deaths. On February 11 1920, Dr. Price stated that it would “greatly aid if all dances are cancelled. People are crowding into theatres and thus making our fight so much harder….”

There was lots happening at Victoria theatres that week. At the Columbia, Tom Mix was playing in “Ace High”, a tale of adventure in the service of the North West Mounted Police. The Royal Theatre was showing “Back to God’s Country”, “A Canadian Picture, Taken in Canada, Acted by Canadians for Canadians,” starring Nell Shipman, a British Columbia Girl supported by a large cast and a wolf, cougar, fox, lynx, doe, raccoon and porcupine (!) We don’t know if the Malon family were “crowding” into the theatres (Mrs. Malon’s diaries ended in December 1919) but I suspect either of these wilderness Western adventures would have been popular with the Malon children. (A side note – The Gilman girls would not have seen “Back to God’s Country” as ushers, since they had left the theatre and were now clerks at H.O. Kirkham Grocery).

One person who was at the theatre was my grandpa Harold Monks, living in Saanich that Winter. He wrote in his Canadian Pocket Diary:  “Sat Feb 14 – Glorious Day. Went to see “The Luck of the Navy” Princess Theatre, played by Percy Hutchison and Coy, London. Very good.” Percy Hutchinson was billed as “The Eminent English Actor” and this was “The First All English Company to Visit Canada Since 1914” [a counterpoint to the all–Canadian “Back to God’s Country”!] “The Luck of the Navy” was a spy drama in which Lieut. Clive Stanton, commander of a submarine, discovers that his second in command is a German spy. Harold’s assessment of the show was shared by the reviewer of the Victoria Daily Times: “A melodramatic example of the playwright’s art, the piece opens quietly, with the action proceeding through successive thrills until a really gripping climax tops it all off.”

The public wasn’t going to desist from going to shows, but here was a great opportunity for some topical advertising. In the Victoria Daily Times, between large ads for Douglas Fairbanks in “When the Clouds Roll By”, Charlie Chaplin in “The Adventurer” and Nazimova in “The Brat” was an “infomercial” — “Public Should Take Every Precaution to Guard Against ‘Flu’”, a seemingly serious article that turned out to be an advertisement for Tanlac, “the powerful reconstructive tonic which contains the very elements needed to give you the fighting strength to ward off the influenza germ.”

Notice the advertisement for Tanlac at the centre of the page among the entertainment and sports features. Victoria Daily Times February 9 1920

“The putting on of the ban is the last thing in the world I want to do.”

Victoria Medical Health Officer Dr. A.G. Price

Harold Monks didn’t get ill from going to see “The Luck of the Navy” and his diary shows that was busy going to friends’ houses, having tea and roasting marshmallows over the fire. But some people were obviously getting ill. On Saturday February 14 1920 The Daily Colonist carried a headline “Recommends council apply for “flu” ban”. Dr. Price’s recommendation for a ban would be discussed on at the Monday February 16 council meeting. On Monday, “a gloomy day” (Harold Monks’ diary), the council met, but clearly didn’t accept the recommendation, as nothing is reported in the paper on February 17. A few days later Dr. Price quit!

“Refusing to be associated with the futile half measures which would only bring blame on him in the end,” Dr. Arthur G. Price last night tendered his resignation from the office of medical health officer to the city council. The council declined to accept the resignation, and will ask Dr. Price to reconsider his action, which was induced by the Provincial Board of Health’s refusal to grant him the powers he asked for respecting precautions against the influenza epidemic. ‘The reasons for taking this stance are that I am not receiving adequate support in my endeavours to suppress the epidemic of influenza in the city.'” (The Daily Colonist February 23 1920).

But on Monday night, March 1 1920, Dr. Price withdrew his resignation and remained as city health officer. The same day, Dr. Henry Esson Young, Provincial Health Officer, wrote: “The Provincial Board of Health is in touch with all points of the province and with the authorities of other provinces and is advised weekly by the Federal Department of Health in Ottawa. All these reports from various sources show that the epidemic has not at any time approached in severity the epidemic of 1918 and that it is rapidly on the wane.”

— The End —

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